Take me to the river. Cruising the rivers of Europe seems like a perfect antidote to the big-ship world of ocean cruising.
You won’t get sea sick, the ship is never far from shore and the berths and town are all on a smaller scale than their big sea cousins.
The same advantages apply: unpack once and stay in a moving bedroom. There is more to see as you move on a river cruise. The view is s a two way process. Make sure to have the curtains closed as you exit the shower to avoid startling the cattle..
They can cost considerably more than ocean cruises but people are flocking to them in dyke-bursting numbers. There are now 308 passenger cruise ships plying the rivers of the world, up from 125 in 2000, with 46,200 berths in total.
So what is all the fuss about? The arteries of rivercruise are just a two hour flight away from Ireland.
So we headed for Basel to follow the course of the Rhine through the storied cities of France and Germany: each one of them a headline of history: Basle, Strasbourg, Heidelberg (not technically on the Rhine but a shore excursion), Cologne, Amsterdam. “I know the route” the captain told us at the welcome meeting.
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We set off from foggy Basel on board the AMACerto, modern flagship of the AMA Waterways group which was founded and sold on by Dubliner Jimmy Murphy.
The Rhine is as much a motorway as a scenic byway. While the scenery action, the stuff of the screensavers and postcards, is to be found between Bingen and Bonn, the real role of the river in history is much more evident from the concrete plants and massive chemical plants along the rest of the river.
There are long stretches of agricultural land, trees and hedgerows carrying on like they did in napoleon’s time. Amacerto came with a small deck pool and a giant chessboard where we whiled away our time and the evening entertainment was lively, given the size of the audience (150) and average age: many of the guests have had their bus passes for quite some time.
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Ocean cruise companies like to boast about the ship as destination. River cruise companies have less to work on but rightly stress their fine dining options, some of the best perch and tenderloin I tasted in a long time, and superior shore excursions.
In many cities you are walking distance from the town so you can explore on your own. Even when you are not, bussing to and from a city is less a herding experience than for ocean goers.
After that it is up to the local guides to perform, which they did. The complicated politics of Strasbourg were brought to life by Gianni Cariani. He talked about the river as you would describe your first lover, forgiving its faults and proud of its role in world affairs.
The favourite story from Strasbourg concerns the dancing plague of 1518, when a group of citizens became so energised they danced until they dropped dead.
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Peaks season is the July-September period when Americans travel, especially the west coast Americans who have fallen in love with river cruise,
But the key is to travel off peak, and some of the companies have kept their ships running past season’s end to take in the Christmas markets.
That is where the best prices will flash up on your window or your travel agent’s. Don’t keep the curtains closed for that.
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Eoghan Corry travelled to Basel courtesy of Sunway, who run the AMA Waterways programme out of Ireland, offering rivercruises on the Rhine, Danube, Douro and Mosel. +3531 2311800 www.sunway.ie or your local travel agent.
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